Coming Home in the Dark (2021)

Coming Home in the Dark
Director: James Ashcroft
Writer: James Ashcroft, Eli Kent
Based on: Owen Marshall‘s short story
Cast: Erik Thomson, Daniel Gillies, Matthias Luafutu, Miriama McDowell, Billy Paratene, Frankie Paratene
Part of: SLASH Film Festival
Seen on: 29.9.2021

Hoaggie (Erik Thomson), his wife Jill (Miriama McDowell) and their children Maika (Billy Paratene) and Jordan (Frankie Paratene) are taking a little road trip together. Their fun and bickering, though, is interrupted when Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) and Tubs (Matthias Luafutu) show up as the family picnics. The two men are armed and dangerous and nothing will be the same after the encounter.

Coming Home in the Dark finished off the trilogy of hopelessness that was the SLASH program this evening (the other two films in this unofficial trilogy were Hunter Hunter and Teddy). Of the three films, it was the weakest. It simply gave us nothing to hold on to.

The film poster showing Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) holding a shotgun in front of a red-tinted sky and a car standing in a field.

Coming Home inf the Dark makes one big miscalculation: it has its most shocking and most effective scene right at the beginning. And once the dust of that shock settles, you realize that with it, the film ran completely out of steam after about 15 minutes or so. Everything that follows after that is so bleak, the film becomes drudgery.

It doesn’t help either that Mandrake mumbles his way through the film, and with a New Zealand accent to boot, making me wish that the film had subtitles (and my English isn’t bad, I’d say, despite not being a native speaker). To be honest, though, I quickly stopped caring about anything I didn’t understand, as I stopped caring for the characters because it was obvious that things would end badly for pretty much everyone. And a little hope is necessary to keep you invested in the film.

Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) driving the car, smoking, Tubs (Matthias Luafutu) sitting behind him.

Re-inforcing that feeling of just not caring anymore was the fact that I kept nodding off more and more the longer the film lasted. And everytime I woke again, nothing had changed for any of the characters. It was just more of the same barrage of bleakness.

A little less nihilism would have helped the film. We can see in the beginning how excellently Ashcroft (and his cast) can portray all the warmth and complexity of a family, and can capture the tension that arises when the family life is threatened. But without the warmth and hope, it just doesn’t work.

Hoaggie (Erik Thomson) and Jill (Miriama McDowell) kneeling with Tubs (Matthias Luafutu) and Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) standing behind them.

Summarizing: too dark for its own good.

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